Film Review: Christine

Christine

Antonio Campos’ Christine fleshes out the character behind the headlines. The film is a competent production with a great central performance.

Christine Chubbuck is a news journalist on a local television network in the 1970s. She is intent on delivering compelling stories, but faces the remonstrations of her boss. Meanwhile, she faces issues in her personal life.

Christine is a character study which takes place over a period of a few weeks. The film is not a biopic. Director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich concentrate on a specific period. Within this time, facets of her past are revealed, yet the film never resorts to flashbacks to tell its story. Rather, the emphasis remains on the protagonist’s state of mind at the time, and how the story reaches its climax.

Characters in Christine are well developed. The protagonist is a convincing figure, and a number of the supporting roles are expanded to a good degree. Christine is not the warmest character but most viewers will be able to empathise with her. The problem-solving scene gives a great insight into her thought process. Also with an emphasis on the ethics of news reporting, the film straddles two main themes. The commentary on the latter, however, merely scratches the surface.

At two hours, the film sometimes loses its momentum. The journey taken by the protagonist covers a few different aspects of her life, and for the most part this is engaging. Despite the bleakness of the narrative, there is humour to be found in the film. For those who are aware of how the film will conclude, there is a tension that works rather well.

Rebecca Hall delivers the performance of her career so far as the title character in Christine. She is most convincing in the role. There is good support from Maria Dizzia and Michael C. Hall. The film features some good camera work.

Christine has some minor flaws, but Rebecca Hall’s performance will keep viewers watching until the final reel.

Christine is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

BFI London Film Festival 2016 Launch

Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2016. This year’s programme is bursting with cinematic delights. There are more galas than in previous years, and screen talk participants include Werner Herzog and Paul Verhoeven. Here are some of the films to look out for at London Film Festival 2016.

Headline Galas

The Birth of a Nation

The London Film Festival 2016’s opening gala A United Kingdom had already been announced, the Scorsese-produced, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire looks like a lot of fun. Elsewhere, plenty of hotly anticipated films including La La Land, Arrival and The Birth of a Nation. Writer-director Nate Parker also stars in the story of an enslaved preacher who led a revolt in 1830s Virginia. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is also a headline gala. An adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

The Handmaiden

This year sees additional galas, which will take place on a purpose built venue on the Strand. They include The Handmaiden, from director Chan-wook Park. The film looks as sumptuous as Park’s previous film Stoker. Miles Teller stars in Bleed For This, based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paziena. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is the Sonic Gala. The hip hop musical features Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and Ava DuVernay’s The 13th are among the special presentations this year.

Official Competition

My Life As A Courgette

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2016. Staring Isabelle Huppert, the film is an adaptation of a Philippe Dijan novel. Terence Davies’ A Quiet Presentation is a biopic of Emily Dickinson staring Cynthia Nixon. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about a young man struggling with his sexuality in 1980s Miami, looks like a great watch. In the First Feature Competition, Porto sees one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, whilst animation My Life As A Courgette looks like a lot of fun. David Lynch: The Art Life is among the contenders for the Documentary Competition, as well as The Graduation. The latter is a documentary about a prestigious film school in Paris. Chasing Asylum, about the Australian government’s immigration policies, seems very topical.

Strands

The Salesman

The Love strand features Lovesong, director So Yong Kim’s film about a lonely young mother. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Highlights in the Debate category include Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. A Separation‘s Farhadi has already won awards at Cannes. Mindhorn features in the Laugh strand. The film stars Julian Barratt as a washed-up 1980s TV detective. Dare features Christine, starring Rebecca Hall as the notorious television journalist. Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog looks to be a highlight of the Thrill section, with Nicholas Cage starring alongside Willem Dafoe. Another David Lynch connection (Cage and Dafoe starred in Lynch’s Wild at Heart), Blue Velvet Revisited, features in the Cult strand.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Cult also features I Am Not A Serial Killer, based on the young adult novel. The Innocents looks to be a highlight of the Journey strand. Anne Fontaine’s film is about a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in 1945. London Town, a coming of age film set in 1979 London, features in the Sonic strand. The Family strand includes Rock Dog, an animation featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons and Luke Wilson. Finally, Experimenta includes Have You Seen My Movie?; a must-see for cinema fans.

The full London Film Festival 2016 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th-16th October 2016.

Previews: The Legend of Tarzan trailer, TMNT2 and more!

An abundance of film trailers this week, including The Legend of Tarzan trailer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and more…

The Legend of Tarzan Trailer

The Legend of Tarzan trailer is here. Boasting a cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz, the film focuses on Tarzan later in life when he asked to be a trade emissary and travel to the Congo. The Legend of Tarzan bombards its way to cinema screens on 18th July 2016.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Trailer

For where is Krang? That’s what everyone wants to know. The trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is here, and features more of the characters from the much-loved cartoon series of the 1980s-1990s. The follow-up to 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is released on 3rd June 2016.

Jane Got A Gun Trailer

Here is the trailer for Western Jane Got a Gun. The film stars Natalie Portman as a mother living on a ranch in New Mexico when her family is threatened by a gang of outlaws. Also starring Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor, Jane Got A Gun is set for release in Spring 2016.

The BFG Trailer

The BFG was never my favourite Roald Dahl book (after all, it didn’t revolve round a chocolate factory), but this new film adaptation looks to be a spectacle. Steven Spielberg directs the live-action film, with a cast that includes Mark Rylance, Rebecca Hall and Bill Hader. The BFG stomps its way onto screens on 22nd July 2016.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer

The full-length trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice reveals quite a bit about the upcoming superhero movie. We get to see Clark Kent meeting Bruce Wayne, even if it may take some time getting used to seeing Ben Affleck in this role. There is also more of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor and an appearance from another of the Justice League. Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is released in cinemas in March 2016.

The Nice Guys Trailer

The Nice Guys sees the unlikely pairing of muscle for hire Russell Crowe and private eye Ryan Gosling team up to track down a missing girl. The film’s 1970s setting is instantly recognisable, from the costumes to the soundtrack. Also starring Kim Basinger and Matt Bomer, The Nice Guys will hit the big screen on 3rd June 2016.

Film Review: The Gift

The Gift

Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is an atmospheric mystery drama. The film suggests a promising career for Edgerton as a filmmaker.

Married couple Simon and Robyn move back to Simon’s hometown for his new job. An encounter with a former school acquaintance seems an inconsequential occurrence to the couple, but Gordo has other ideas…

The Gift is Joel Edgerton’s debut feature as a writer-director. Overall, it indicates a talent behind the screen as well as in front of the camera; Edgerton stars as Gordo in the film. Those expecting a horror movie may be disappointed by The Gift. Although there are a few jumpy moments, it is misleading to classify the film as a horror. The Gift is best considered a mystery, which develops into an engaging drama as events unfold.

The premise of The Gift may suggest the kind of unhinged stalker thriller that viewers are bound to have seen several times before. However, Edgerton eschews this option, offering a much less predictable film. The ending in particular could go a number of ways given the breadcrumbs laid out beforehand. However, it is a satisfying conclusion to proceedings.

Protagonists in The Gift are well rounded. It would have been easy for Edgerton to follow the convention of the good guys being terrorised by an unstable outsider, but The Gift does not quite work in this way. The narrative unfolds at a good pace, keeping viewers engaged throughout. The twists in the film are believable, and the film is all the better for not following a predictable path.

Joel Edgerton gives a great performance as Gordo, bringing a suitably unnerving presence to the character. It is good to see Jason Bateman in a different type of role, whilst Rebecca Hall is decent as Robyn. Camera work is good, and the house is a great location for most of the action to take place in.

The Gift will satisfy audiences as long as they are aware that the film is not a horror. It offers something more original than a horror of this theme would have.

Nick Murphy Interview

Nick Murphy was at the London Film Festival in October to promote his upcoming film The Awakening. It is the feature debut for Murphy, who has hitherto written and directed for television. I met Nick in the last week of the festival, where he took part in round table interviews.

The Awakening was co-written by Stephen Volk, who wrote Ghostwatch; a different type of ghost story. What was it like working with him?

I haven’t actually seen it [Ghostwatch]. I know! It’s terrible, there are other films I haven’t seen – I haven’t seen The Wicker Man! No, Stephen has got such an understanding of horror, and he wrote the backbone of the film. We never sat down together and wrote. He wrote the bones of the film – the scare story – and I came in and brought in and brought more of an emotional attachment. The sense of loss, grief; the back to the story. I put in a reference in the film where a red ball bounces down the stairs, and was thinking of using the colour red as a signature colour in the film. And Stephen said “Yeah, but that’s The Changeling”! So having him as our resident person who had actually seen this stuff was helpful. Once I started the project, I’d stopped watching anything frightening in order to not have too many references, and yet we’ve all been to the cinema and those things boggle down to the tadpoles in your mind. For example when I wrote the doll house sequence, and I don’t know; there’s something freaky about dolls’ houses and there’s something freaky about dolls.

Following on from that, I found the doll’s house sequence one of the most chilling scenes I have seen for a long time. How did you come up with that idea?

I was writing that sequence – and I’ve got am office in my garden, and it was quite late – and there wasn’t any music playing, it was quite quiet. I didn’t know the sequence before I wrote it really. I thought it would be interesting to re-enact scenes of her recent past in the house and for that to catch up with her. What I didn’t have is the end of the sequence where she sees the doll looking at the doll’s house in the attic, and then I thought, to the left there is a child doll standing behind her and it freaked me out! I had to stand up and walk around my tiny little office at the end of the garden!  I know writers always charm themselves and talk about the effect of their work, but you do get like that. When you write an emotional scene, and you check back an emotional scene, you find it emotional. As you check back on a scene to see whether you feel it is going to be scary or not, you need to be scared. And it’s always a good sign when you’re frightened to be in your office on your own!

Where do you think we are with British horror at the moment? Do you think there is a bit of a revival going on?

I don’t know about a revival. Certainly, people have been a bit fed up with the blood end of horror. And that’s not going to kill the genre, but they’ve seen quite a lot of it. The “two guys, caught in a room, one’s got an axe, what are you going to do” sort of horror, which I really, really don’t like. I know I don’t profess to be an expert in the supernatural genre or the horror genre – and they are different of course – but I genuinely don’t like that sort of stuff. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been made, but the idea of Hostel or something just simply isn’t my bag. But I think people, far from being fed up with it, the reaction has been refreshing: “Oh God this is just a traditional ghost story”. So when we’ve been talking to people saying that this is actually a traditional ghost story, it’s a classic ghost story, there’s been a sort of “oh nice! I like that”. I think it has almost reminded people of that, whether it causes a revival; in a sense, I hope that nothing ever causes a revival because it means that one trend becomes another trend. I’d much rather see the waters always stirred up, and never quite settling.

It’s quite interesting to have a film of the horror genre coming out that is more ghost-based…

I think the ghost mystery, the mystery of ghost stories helps, that’s what is important. I have been shouting this from the rooftops: we are going to take 9, 10, 12 quid off people at the cinemas these days – we as in us directors – we cannot just end the experience when the lights come up. I think the problem with the Hostel-end of it is that there is less to discuss. What was important is that [The Awakening] had plenty of lobby chat potential. I want people to get back into the lobby and say “but hang on, she was… oh my god! Of course…”. We are taking money off people, and it’s got to be a longer experience, it can’t just be “lights up, scared you, haha off you go”. While the jumps are important in the film, I’m much more gratified when I hear of people realising the following day, or I hear people in the lobby, as I did in the festival, saying “No, but he could see ghosts anyway”. So they are talking about it and that’s great, and then I think you really are into giving people an experience of going out that cinema can offer – a collective experience – in a way that television and home movies can’t quite give.

How is The Awakening marketed, in terms of genre?

That’s an interesting question. You know what, I was never told before where they wanted to place it. So I wrote the script, or I handed it in after my spell of writing, and they made notes about the script and notes about what needed changing, and they advised but they never said “look, we want it to be this sort of film”. I think at the very early stages when I was presented with the project, I voiced an interest in setting it in Feltham, in the modern day, so it would have been in a young offenders’ institute in the modern day. And they said “no, no. no, we are looking at the market and we would like it to be period”, for better overseas sales potential or whatever. But other than that, they were never prescriptive, and the Feltham idea was a rubbish one anyway so that’s fine. As they were never really prescriptive, I didn’t realise what it was going to be.

But bear in mind, when you are a director, there is a big difference between that and a producer, and that and an executive producer. When you are directing, you’re just trying to give the person at home the experience you had as a kid. For me it was the classic cinema on holiday in Merseyside. But we all have that cinema in our minds, don’t we? The one that we went to when we were a kid, where we had that experience in the dark. And you are just trying to give that. In a sense, I was happy and they were happy to work out what it was afterwards. And I think where they worked it out was when they watched it, and one of studio execs said “you know what, it’s a supernatural mystery, that’s what it is – it’s not a horror”. They didn’t really want to decide what it was until they’d seen it, and now I think they are saying that it is a classic supernatural mystery, in the oldest tradition. I don’t want people to call it a horror film. It’s beyond my power to stop them, and I keep seeing people writing “Nick Murphy’s horror film” – no! But I would prefer to keep the horror word out of it. It puts people off, it puts me off, quite honestly. Let’s be clear, The Blair Witch Project was a horror film, and that’s a brilliant film, that scared the pants off of me. But when you close your eyes, the word horror means to most people cutting people up and the possessed children and so forth. So it does have negative connotations to a lot of people; I am much more pleased to keep [The Awakening] into a more popular description really. There is a potential for journey for the characters within a ghost story than there is in a horror film.

Can you tell us a bit about the lead character Florence and the choice of Rebecca Hall in this role?

I was very keen that Florence would be for her day a modern woman. Rebecca and I were shoulder to shoulder on this, we wanted Florence to be what women would turn into ten years after our story. That’s why we very overtly dress her in trouser suits, and Rebecca was completely on board with all of that. I’ve seen actresses in the past saying “I like playing strong women”. And I think, “is it a strong woman? You’ve got a bow and arrow, that doesn’t quite make you a strong woman”. It was very important that Florence firstly suffered, and had an arc of change, and was a bit screwed up in the begining. She is clearly injured, and carrying these psychological injuries. But her rescue is of her own making, and it is not, ultimately, of any male character. All the male characters are the most f**ked up in the whole film. They all carry injuries from which they haven’t yet recovered, or don’t recover. Dominic [West] is a very bright guy (although he pretends not to be, interestingly) and he liked the fact that when Mallory is asked to fly off to the rescue, he doesn’t rescue Florence. He’s impotent in that regard, and Florence rescues Florence.

I’m not an ardent feminist, and I don’t pretend for a second that this is going to readdress the gender bias in cinema. But what I do think is that it allows having an interesting female character suffering psychological injuries that are consistent with the way a lot of women regards their responsibilities to themselves and to their partners and to their hearts. I think this is one of the reasons women have responded so well to the film. It did matter that we had a woman who was smart but likeable. With certain actresses, they can be beautiful in a way that’s annoying. Rebecca’s gift, apart from all the many others, is that her beauty isn’t irritating to women. With the best will in the world to Megan Fox, she couldn’t have played this part. I’m not having a pop at Megan, but while men find her attractive, my suspicion is women aren’t enamoured by her in the way they are by Rebecca. Rebecca’s charm and wit carry the character nicely.

What attracted you to setting the film in the post-war period?

If you are going to write or direct a film, you have got to have a clear one line about what the film is about. If you don’t you never really know what you are building. As soon as we chanced on the idea that we see ghost figures because we need to, I know it would create a period. The sickness, the loss in people’s faces, everything feeds into that central one idea. It was imperative it couldn’t be gothic. I didn’t want lightning, I banned all that.  I didn’t want the terrifying to come from the cinematic tradition, I want viewers to discover it’s terrifying. You look at the outside of our school, it’s not terrifying. At the end of it you look at it and think “that’s a terrifying building”.

Too many of this genre become studies in the genre, and they are not actually telling their own story. If you think of a fabric like taffeta that has two threads in it. One of those needs to be novel, fresh, clean ideas. The other thread needs to be traditions, and cliché if necessary. It is a case of how you wed those together. If you take one out and only have novelty, that’s not in the genre. If you leave only your traditions, that’s boring and no one will forgive you for it. So it is a case of marrying those two.

The Awakening is out on Friday 11th November 2011.

Film Review: The Awakening

Nick Murphy’s The Awakening is a supernatural chiller that is successful for the most part. The film is reminiscent of several other ghost films, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Writer and exposer of supernatural hoaxes, Florence Cathcart is inundated with requests after the First World War. Teacher Robert Mallory visits Florence to ask for her help with a disturbing matter. Children at his boarding school have reported sightings of an apparition…

There is something distinctly old-fashioned about The Awakening. Rather than feeling redundant, this feel is actually quite appealing. The scares in Murphy’s film are somewhat predictable, but are in keeping with the classic feel. The Awakening evokes The Innocents in both its style and its themes. Although it is not quite at the same level as the 1961 film, the atmosphere it generates is admireable.

The narrative works well to reel viewers in. The opening sequence is a great introduction to the work of Florence. It also pulls the curtain back on a fascinating subject: seances of the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. The sense of mystery keeps viewers hooked. Later in the film, old clichés are relied upon. It is a shame, as the film builds tension and mystery up to this point.

Rebecca Hall delivers a fine performance as Florence. The actress has good chemistry with co-star Dominic West. Art direction in The Awakening is fantastic, pivotal to generating atmosphere. The doll’s house sequence is marvellously executed, bringing genuine chills.

The Awakening may produce feelings of déjà vu, but it is perfect viewing if you are looking for some supernatural escapism.

The Awakening is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011. The film is released in cinemas on 11th November 2011.

The Awakening Trailer

A quick search will inform you that there are a number of films titled The Awakening. This one is a supernatural thriller set for release on 11th November 2011. It looks as if it could be quite scary; ghosts frighten me more than most other supernautral creatures in movies. The Awakening stars Dominic West, Rebecca Hall and Imelda Staunton.

Film Review: Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go showcases Will Ferrell’s dramatic talents in a low-budget indie flick that retains a buoyancy despite its serious themes. The film could have opted for a sombre route, but thankfully Everything Must Go addresses issues without a sense of judgement, and is a better film for it.

On the same day he loses his job following a relapse, recovering alcoholic Nick Hasley returns home to find his wife has locked him out of their house and left all his possessions on the front yard. As he tries to come to terms with this turn of events, Nick meets a couple of neighbours who have a significant effect on him…

Based on the Raymond Carver short story, Everything Must Go features a fairly uneventful narrative. The film is more concerned with exploring the central character, offering a window into Nick’s world. Everything Must Go is successful in engaging the viewer; it is never clear exactly which way the film will go and how it will conclude.

Nick is an interesting protagonist; he is both amusing and pitiful. Director and screenwriter Dan Rush does not refrain from depicting the negative elements of Nick’s personality. Therefore, Nick has a good rapport with Kenny, as well as an uncomfortable exchange with a store employee when trying to buy alcohol. In his relationships with the young Kenny and pregnant neighbour Samantha, Nick is laid bare. He shows them, as well as the audience, the best and worst of his personality.

Kenny is a delightfully gentle character. His interactions with Nick make some of the best scenes in the film. Kenny, along with Samantha and Nick himself, exhibit how imperfect people’s lives are, despite appearances. Rush has constructed a Spielbergian suburbia that is aesthetically perfect, but belies the reality. Through Nick’s eyes we see that all his neighbours have something going on beneath the surface, whether that is Kenny being left to his own devices or Samantha’s absentee husband. Though Nick is the most troubled character, Everything Must Go suggests everyone has less than perfect lives.

Will Ferrell is great in this non-comedy role. He appears wholly authentic conveying Nick’s struggle with alcohol, and his frustration with his circumstances. Rebecca Hall brings a sweetness to Samantha, while Christopher Jordan Wallace is earnest as Kenny. It is nice to see Laura Dern make an appearance, albeit in a small role.

Everything Must Go is filmed in a simplistic style that works well given the sparse narrative. The film keeps a steady pace, which feeds in to the ‘slice of life’ feel. The music combines affably with the visuals to generate an unassuming air that is integral to the film.

In his feature debut, Rush has succeeded in creating a film that effectively portrays a flawed protagonist without judgement. The lack of either condemnation or heaped praise ensures Everything Must Go does not get weighed down by moralising, allowing viewers the scope to form their own opinions.

Everything Must Go was screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

Film Review: The Town

Like a phoenix risen from the ashes of Gigli and Jersey Girl, Ben Affleck lives up to his early promise with the accomplished crime thriller The Town. The film deserves its place at the top of the United States box office, and will most likely replicate this success when it is released in the UK this weekend.

Bank robber Doug McKray decides to befriend a woman who was taken hostage by his crew, to discover how much she has told police. When a relationship flourishes between the two, Doug finds it difficult to balance this new development with his life of crime…

Affleck proves himself to be a competent director with The Town. He appears as adept in directing big action sequences as he does with the quieter, more emotional scenes. The action scenes in particular are frenetic in their editing; cutting frequently between long shots, close-ups and different points of view. This goes a long way to generate the tension that runs throughout the film.

The Town deftly manoeuvres between the gritty reality of crime and poverty and a high-octane action movie. The film works well as it does not allow itself to get too entrenched in the pessimism of deprivation, yet at the same time has more depth than most run-of-the-mill action thrillers. To some, the romance between Doug and Claire may seem contrived, but it is integral in its function as a catalyst to propel the events that follow.

As protagonist Doug, Affleck is measured in revealing his feelings; maintaining a calm that make the spurts of aggression or emotion appear authentic and in-keeping with the character. There are the prerequisite shades of grey so ingrained in a character such as this. Neither wholly good nor bad, Doug weighs heavy with the burden of his actions but strives for something more than the Charlestown way.

Jeremy Renner is excellent as loose-cannon best friend Jem. Renner effectively portrays the violence of the character, thus illustrating a stark contrast between the outlook and ideals of the two best friends. Blake Lively gives an admirable performance as the sister of Jem, and sometime girlfriend of Doug. Lively exhibits a range greater than her Gossip Girl appearances would suggest. Elsewhere, both Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall put in decent performances in their respective roles.

The Town is an effective thriller precisely because it maintains the element of suspense throughout. It is never clear which way events will turn, or exactly how the film will reach its conclusion. Affleck’s aptitude for suspense demonstrated in The Town will undoubtedly produce much anticipation for his next effort.